Jonny Peters says it’ll take more than new devices for VR advertising to really take off.
Even for someone that has been working in the industry for a while, that sort of headline makes you listen a little more intently. It’s a big goal, especially considering that dedicated
VR headset sales are expected to be around the 22 million mark in 2021.
But it’s also the sort of big goal that Zuckerberg has achieved before, having taken the number of monthly active users on Facebook from roughly 20 million in April 2007 to over one billion in 2012, and then much further.
Of course, one of the most important dynamics in that change was Facebook’s mobile-first strategy which dovetailed with the advent of the smartphone. It’s no coincidence that the
number of smartphones in use around the world passed one billion in – you guessed it – 2012.
That symbiotic relationship between smartphone use and Facebook use has definitely not been lost on Zuckerberg. It is one of the reasons behind his announcement earlier this month that Facebook’s Oculus unit will release its ‘Go’ device early next year. Oculus designed Go to tackle two key ongoing barriers to adoption of this technology. The first is portability, with the cordless Go not requiring any wired connection to a nearby computer.
The second is price, with the Go set to retail at $199, a level that is far more inline with the mobile VR options than the more powerful tethered devices that Go will compete with.
High price has been one of the stand out barriers to VR adoption so far and Facebook’s not the only one to notice. Microsoft, Google, HTC and Sony among others have all talked about the prospect of cheaper headsets and it’s a significant movement within the market right now.
Even if it is the catalyst for mass adoption though, there is still a huge industry blindspot that seems to have gone unnoticed.
VR advertising needs more than new devices
From the technology perspective, lowering the price of devices and making them more portable is really important. However, for VR advertising to really take off, the content within these worlds needs to be truly compelling.
While more content creators are needed, we know from the experience of other content environments that there must be a monetisation model in place to really attract them. Unfortunately, advertising in VR is fundamentally flawed. This needs to change if content creators and the brands that fund them are to dive in head(set) first.
One of the main reasons for the flawed VR advertising model is that attempts to design it have not gone beyond the existing models that are used in other environments.
Facebook and Google currently make billions from the system of content indexing and publishing that exists on their search engine, social media and affiliated ecosystems. Brands
either pay to have their ads and content appear in front of consumers or the pay only when a consumer clicks. Unfortunately, this simple model seems to have grown and grown to the point where the customer journey has become the constant closing of popup ads, as the increasing reliance on ad blockers shows.
Google has already built a prototype advert for VR, that developers can play around with to see how advertising might work. However, it looks like an uninspiring attempt to bolt a broken model onto an exciting new environment.
A really useful advertising model will not think ad first but user first. It needs to focus on the dynamics of the VR environment and the potential of this medium, so that advertising makes the experience flow, not stop.
‘Gaze controlled’ measurement
An important thing to keep in mind here is gaze control – the way in which VR users can engage with the world around them by moving their head and eyes towards particular parts of the environment.
In terms of advertising, it’s the equivalent of clicking through links and pages on a website, as gaze control enables user engagement to be measured and thereby monetised. It should be the dynamic that any future proofed advertising model for VR is built around and is such a significant element within VR that it could be the foundation for a huge monetised economy.
Instead of viewers being bombarded with ads and overlays within the constricted space of a phone, tablet or laptop screen, the VR environment and the use of gaze control mean that
branded content can fill a huge space. Overlaying the pop up ads of old into it would be the worst result. However, at the more interesting end of the spectrum, everything from tiny,
grabbable VR objects to huge festival experiences could be generated by brands.
Of course, this awe inspiring world of branded engagement goes way beyond the click throughs and likes that current digital advertising models are based on. To help it function, it would need a backbone that was highly secure and able to keep up with the constant flow of micro-transactions that monetise user engagement.
Fortunately, a parallel technology revolution provides a solution for this complexity. Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, is being introduced across markets because of its security, transparency and ability to track a huge swath of micro-transactions.
As VR technology is adopted on mass, content producers and advertisers will flood the market. Establishing gaze control as a unit of measurement can form the foundations for advertising that mean it adds to – not interrupts – the user experience.
Combining this with the power of the blockchain will ensure that brands, advertisers and content producers can embrace this new world knowing that their ownership rights, and the money that flows from them, is not only secure and transparent but also managed quickly and efficiently.
Mark Zuckerberg can see the great opportunity of VR advertising. By combining gaze control and blockchain, that opportunity could become a reality.